This is not the end…

“I am a part of all that I have met…” Tennyson


I read something recently that really resonated with me, that the source of frustration can usually be traced back to unmet expectations. I wish I could tell you where I read it but I do not remember. It was somewhere on the Web, the vastness of which continues to boggle my mind whenever I try to contemplate it. What’s that condition some people get when overwhelmed by great beauty? Stendhal Syndrome? There has got to be something like that for what happens to my brain when I try to comprehend the World Wide Web…but I have veered completely off topic here as usual…

Back to my original thought which was that, yes, I realized how true it is that expectation can lead to frustration (wait, that rhymes!). I thought of every time I feel frustrated as a teacher and every time my students feel frustrated in the classroom and I can always bring it back to this essential element, unmet expectations.

Ok, I promise I am getting to reflecting on my Action Plan. I just like to wander thoughtfully and work it all out as I write. But here is how I think it all connects. By making learning authentic for my students I think I can stop worrying about “meeting expectations” and focus on this: expect that my students will learn when provided with the opportunity and the safe space in which to do it because the human brain loves to learn; nurture this; believe that they will become the best versions of themselves and show them that I believe this; help them; relinquish my expectations and see where the kids take it. I know it will be somewhere I didn’t expect. Yes, this is me being all shiny and idealistic. This is me imagining myself with a bunch of kids, running wild in the forest and mucking about in the mud, exploring the city, building things, solving problems, learning about life and everything in it all while rarely darkening the door of the classroom. I imagine this would have to take place in a sort of utopia for education (such as Finland).



Back to the real world now, the one I regularly inhabit and in which I am trying to create this sense of agency and authenticity in classroom learning. The difficulties of getting out in the world to make connections between what happens in the classroom and my students’ lives sometimes seem daunting.

My Action Plan was to try to harness the students’ curiosity and natural desire to learn to help them feel good about coming to school each day. I started by focusing on one science unit and for the most part it worked really well. So well, in fact, that I feel a sense of urgency in trying to make all of school like this for my students even when we have to learn difficult things like fractions and paragraph structure. I wonder what would happen if I could have a school without walls as @lmcbeth talks about in her inspiring blog post.

In the meantime, while I am mostly stuck within these 4 walls, I have tried a few things out. Generating authentic writing by getting the kids to notice the world around them and what it sparks in them. We practised doing this by going different places and writing down what we noticed (we went to the furnace room, thanks @ckirsh for suggesting way back at the beginning of this journey that I ban myself from the classroom for a week, not quite there yet but I’m working on it!)

We ended up with kids writing about basketball players, climate change, Donald Trump, and the importance of education. They cannot wait for writing time and I am amazed at how their paragraph writing skills have developed.

Lots and lots of open-ended, collaborative problem solving, a process that I actually started working on last year. I’m trying to move away from asking a question with an expected answer. Rather, I provide some information and see what the kids do with it. It really requires me to sit on my hands and bite my tongue while the kids go to it. I have to be patient and not intervene because I think they are missing the point. They bring their own kid logic and experience to whatever they do!


Beginning of the year


But helping them understand fractions has been tricky and I am still trying to work it out. I’m finding it difficult to find authentic ways to solidify this concept for them. I am still learning about this process and I find myself pushing them too far before they are ready. @rutheichholtz inspired me to step back and let the students lead the way. What I am still trying to work out is where my role as teacher comes in. When and how do I get the students to the next level of understanding? When do I push and when do I step back? One thing I have learned so far is that I need to be ok with a question mark.

I am grateful for this opportunity to learn from my colleagues and to connect with so many passionate and dedicated educators. I have learned so much and grown so much, both in my teaching practice and in who I am as a person. My Action Plan continues, in fact I think it will always continue as long as I am a teacher. That is one of many things that I have taken from this Cohort 21 experience; that an Action Plan can go on and on and on! It’s a work in progress as are we all.

Should you feel so inclined, have a look at my Final Reflection


12 thoughts on “This is not the end…

  1. Miriam, this is a great post that reflects how you are currently embracing ambiguity – not sure where things fit, but you’re holding back from imposing structure. I strongly suggest reading Jill Colyer’s book “I.Q. A Practical Guide to Inquiry Based Learning” It could give you some concrete answers to the questions that you are asking of yourself.

  2. Hi Miriam,
    This is a really great reflection of the journey and I don’t mind the tangents! I love that you change the scenery for your students and let them drive their learning a little. We can have structure but it doesn’t have to be content driven. My grade 9 French class and I came up with a saying “Make time for life” which if things are getting too dull in class, we shake it up and discuss what’s happening with them or I give them a real-life situation in which to interact. There’s real learning in letting them explore what interests them! I came across this blog the other day – great things to consider when shifting your practice!

    Thanks for making curiosity and inquiry valuable with your younger learners!

    1. Thanks Derek! I LOVED that blog post. It feels as though the author was inside my head saying everything I think. Thanks so much for sending it to me!

  3. In utopia… such as Finland. This made me crack up.

    I know you feel a strong drive toward embracing variety, ambiguity, and inquiry in your classroom, and of course you allow yourself plenty of ambiguity and many questions in the way you understand this. There is a big and important idea in there. I really hope you’ll keep writing to keep uncovering and understanding your attraction to this style. I hope you will because I know you’re very bright, very dedicated, and kind of ‘magicial’ with kids. I know the people that experience your teaching are moved by this intangible and complex thing you do. Some things are so unique and bold that they CAN’T really be expressed clearly, but sharing your impressions and artifacts and bits and pieces of thinking makes for really great conversation and moves us a little closer to being able to understand and replicate it.

    1. Hooray! My first non-Cohort commenter. Thank you, Laurie, for your kind words and faith in my abilities, they help to keep the critic at bay. As I am sure you know, when you are mucking about in the everyday of teaching, so to speak, it can be hard to see what you are doing with any kind of perspective. I value your opinion because I know we share a lot of the same ideas about what learning should feel like. You should check out the blog post that @ddoucet posted. You will love it!

      As for Finland, I’ve read so much about their educational system that it’s become a sort of mythical place in my mind that I keep striving to find…I keep joking about moving there.

    2. Laurie! Fellow FDS inductee!

      Your feedback on Miriam’s post is supportive and validating. Authentic peer feedback is sometimes the most powerful motivator. You are right to note that Miriam brings a certain “magical” quality to her teaching and learning and that her students are the beneficiaries. So, too, are her colleagues, as you have shown in your post. Collegial support and acknowledgment can make all the difference. Together you two make a great team.

      1. Just don’t ask my students after today’s writing class if they think I’m magical! They will give a resounding no. But that is the great thing about great colleagues like Laurie. You can go to them and wring your hands and tear out your hair and they will sympathize, encourage you, and then give you something new to try. Magic doesn’t happen on it’s own 🙂

  4. Miriam,

    Another thoughtful and inspiring blog post! I love that you explore all ideas and come at them from different perspectives. Your Final Reflection really demonstrates a subtle yet important shift in thinking about student curiosity: hand over the reins to students and see where they take each other in the learning process. Most importantly, you embraced your own curiosity and modeled for your students the benefits that come from taking risks, listening to instincts, and considering new perspectives (and even locations). An inspiring and impactful journey.

    And since there was mention of Finland, I can’t resist including this here:

    1. Thank you, Shelley! I think I’ve always believed in this kind of teaching but I always felt nervous to actually try it. It’s been great to try it out with such a supportive and responsive group of people. The funny thing is, that just after I blogged about how excited my students are about writing, today they were all moaning and groaning and gnashing their teeth! Writing was a disaster and most of them ended up feeling defeated. Oi! But I shall take that as a sign that I need to rethink what I did and try again. Never a dull moment!

      That particular article about Finland is one of the many articles that got me thinking about Finland originally. I just re-read it and I got inspired all over again! One day I will have to go there.

  5. Miriam, Great post! I love your pictures of the visible learning that is happening in your class. I too am working on having students write for an authentic audience. You are right! It makes a big difference. Also, co-constructing the knowledge with the students is the way to go. I’m excited to chat with you about your sucess on Friday. Great work!

    1. Thanks, Brent!
      I took a look at your post to see what you were doing in writing and it all sounds great. Most of the kids I teach are struggling readers and writers so if your students ever want to write for my class I would love that! I am sure that my kids would be much more motivated to read a story that was written by another kid (albeit a much older one). Looking forward to chatting with you!

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